A Night at Robert McCalisters (2009) – By Cary Conley

Robert McCalister has it all.  A Dubliner that made the move to sunny LA, he has a beautiful home, a gorgeous girlfriend, and a rock band, comprised of three close friends, which is on the verge of breaking through and really becoming successful.  Through Robert’s narration, we get to meet Robert’s girlfriend, Leila, as well as the three band members, including the introverted songwriter Tom—who also happens to be Leila’s brother—as well as the raucous Eddie (the drummer) and Rick (the bassist).

The boys have a night of drinking and poker planned while Leila is going clubbing.  But from the outset, Robert is noticeably skittish and a bit on edge.  Is it this Irishman’s natural demeanor, or is there something deeper going on within his psyche? 

I can’t say anything more about the plot because I’m afraid I might spoil the viewing experience for any potential viewers.  Suffice to say, it is a raw, emotional, and powerful film that isn’t diminished by repeat viewings; in fact, on second viewing, I caught hints and hidden meanings that I had not seen the first time, allowing me to take something away from the film that was totally different from the first time I viewed it.

The talented Jagger brothers, Ben and Dean, have crafted a fine film short (35 minutes) that explores the boundaries of friendship, love and trust, and just how far these boundaries can be pushed before something—or someone– snaps.  Indeed, according to Robert McCalister, “A friend is an enemy you haven’t met yet.”

The acting is generally fine, with some superb highlights by Joseph DiMasso who plays “not so steady Eddie,” the Keith Moon-type drummer who is strung out on drugs, booze and women.   But the true star of the film is Dean Jagger as Robert McCalister.  Jagger offers a stunning performance as he expertly balances a tightrope between a calm exterior and an inner rage.

Ben Jagger’s direction is subtly adept.  The viewer is introduced to the main characters through Robert McCalister’s narration as we see each character progressing through the trivialities of their lives, juxtaposed by Robert’s quiet reflection at the window, on a rooftop, playing guitar.  We get the sense that Robert is sensitive and serious about his relationships, his band, and his life.  Only upon a second viewing do we realize exactly what Robert is thinking about.  The slightly shaky, handheld camera shots and rapid editing along with the opening narration lends the film a bit of a documentary feel which, I think, pulls the audience in, allowing us to believe these characters are real.  And they do seem real.  They seem just like what a bunch of LA 20-somethings with a band would act like.

But almost from the outset we also know that something is amiss.  Much like a good Hitchcock film, we see brief scenes that remind us that something isn’t quite right.  An occasional facial expression, apparent to only the viewer, or a musical cue, is further proof that there is a “ticking bomb” waiting to go off.  But just like Hitchcock, Jagger masterfully keeps us in suspense—we don’t know what the bomb is or when it’s going to be dropped—which allows the tension to be ratcheted up.  Again, much like Hitchcock, Jagger masterfully manipulates the audience with humor, so just when we think the bomb will be revealed, the use of humor allows us to laugh and be caught up in the moment, forgetting that gnawing feeling of anxiety that had been building within us earlier.

The music is especially effective, used to manipulate the audience and to relax us with the carefree scenes of four good friends drinking, laughing, and playing poker as well as to jar us back to reality as the tension mounts.

This is a very effective dramatic film short with excellent writing, acting, and directing.  It will haunt you after you’ve seen it and holds up to repeated viewings, even allowing you a different experience if you watch it a second time.  The Jagger brothers have created a powerful piece of film and it is highly recommended.

If you would like more information on this excellent film, please check out Belief Films at www.belieffilms.com.